Wildfire recovery well under way at Keysight Technologies
After the October wildfires, contractors for Keysight Technologies removed more than 1 million pounds of debris from the company’s Santa Rosa headquarters.
Keysight’s global workforce donated more than $1 million to help colleagues in Santa Rosa who lost 119 homes to the most destructive wildfires in state history.
And the company, the world’s largest electronics measurement business, by January had spent $7 million on fire-?related expenses, including costs to lease and equip temporary quarters for?1,200 employees in Rohnert Park and Petaluma.
The numbers provide insight into the challenges Keysight faced as it helped its displaced workers, restored damaged facilities and resumed design and production operations in Sonoma County.
“I’ve never seen anything like this, a crisis of this magnitude,” Keysight CEO Ron Nersesian said in a recent interview.
He called the response of his staff amazing, and he considered their efforts - especially “the way we took care of our people” - the proudest accomplishment of his career spanning more than three decades.
“This is definitely the thing I feel best about in my professional life,” Nersesian said.
Six months after the fires, recovery efforts continue at Keysight’s headquarters on Fountaingrove Parkway. About 300 of its 1,500 permanent, temporary and contract workers still report to interim quarters in Rohnert Park. All are expected to return to the Santa Rosa facility by the end of May.
At the campus, smoke and heat damage required the removal of 37,000 ceiling tiles in four massive buildings. Roughly 1,200 office cubicles were replaced, as well as carpets and heat-damaged windows.
“Everything that was soft had to be replaced,” Hamish Gray, a senior vice president, said during a tour of the campus earlier this month. “Everything that was hard had to be cleaned.”
The flames that struck Keysight were among several North Bay wildfires that claimed 40 lives and destroyed?6,200 homes. The infernos, which began on the night of Oct. 8, became the most destructive wildfires in state history. Insured losses totaled nearly $10 billion.
Among those killed was Michel Azarian, a 41-year-old Keysight engineer who died from severe burns while fleeing the Tubbs fire as it leveled his Mark West Springs home.
Keysight is the largest company ever based in Sonoma County. With annual revenues of $3.2 billion, it employs roughly 12,600 workers in the U.S., Europe and Asia. Its products are used by the world’s largest tech and telecom companies in such fields as wireless, aerospace and defense, networking, automotive and devices characterized under “the Internet of Things.”
Keysight’s ties to Sonoma County began in 1972 when Hewlett-Packard opened operations here and went on to develop 1 million square feet of office and production space at the Fountaingrove campus. HP’s measurement business later split off to become Agilent Technologies, which at its height employed more than 5,000 workers in the county. In 2014, Keysight split off from Agilent to become its own publicly traded company.
Throughout the decades, the county has benefited from the high-paying jobs offered by Keysight and its predecessors, said Ben Stone, executive director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board. Also, he said, from its earliest days as Hewlett-Packard until the present, the business has set the standard for giving back to the community, especially by encouraging its staff to volunteer with a range of local organizations.
“I think that was HP’s gift to Sonoma County,” said Stone.
When the wildfires struck, Keysight officials quickly set up an emergency response center to plan recovery efforts and to help spread news to their workers, customers and investors. Crisis team members gathered in the Petaluma dining room of Claire McCarthy, the company’s global director of security and environmental, health and safety. For roughly the next 10 days, Nersesian said, McCarthy’s home became the center for managing the response efforts.
Nersesian had been in Germany when the fires erupted. He soon boarded a plane and returned to Santa Rosa on Tuesday morning Oct. 10.
One of his first priorities was to find temporary quarters that could hold at least 1,000 workers.
Within two days the company had secured space for 100 workers in Petaluma and for 1,100 in Rohnert Park at SOMO Village, originally built as a Hewlett-Packard facility and closed by Agilent in 2004.
Keysight also quickly set up an employee relief center in Santa Rosa that provided meals, supplies and other relief for workers who had lost homes or been displaced by the fires. The company arranged for workers to receive counseling, legal guidance and help finding temporary housing.